Initially, PWL records almost passed on working with Donovan. However, Pete Waterman admitted that “having met Jason, I immediately hit it off with him. He was quite a lad, which was unusual among the acts we were working with, and he and I used to go to motor races all over the country. He’d driven sports cars in Australia and was really into it all so when we had a bit of spare time, we used to go to Silverstone together and drive around the track for a morning. He was a fun-loving guy and always up for a laugh, and I got on very well with him.” 1 Other staff at The Hit Factory agreed that Donovan was easy to get on with, and a hard worker. “He quickly became ‘one of the boys’ in as much as here was a laid-back guy, very outgoing and enthusiastic, ready to endear himself to everyone in the building, a typical Aussie ‘g’day mate’, easy-going character,” said PWL engineer and producer Phil Harding2. “He would join us for drinks at the pub at 10pm, which many artists were reluctant to do, and quite amusingly to Ian [Curnow, who co-produced with Harding] and me, he would come and practise his vocals in Ian’s sub-basement vocal booth… He would take as much time as he could to practise to cassette backing tracks, playing on a Sony Walkman, with him singing ‘full monty’ (loud and in full voice) over it. It would be quite painful for Ian to endure at times, but we admired his determination to get it right and be as prepared as possible for his upstairs performances with Mike Stock and Matt Aitken.”
Having checked this his existing star, Minogue, was happy for her producers to work some more with her then boyfriend, Waterman began to plan what they could do with Donovan. “It just so happened,” he said,1 “that we had lost Rick Astley and had the song Nothing Can Divide Us which we thought would be perfect for Jason. He went in and recorded it and we realised that it was far too good to ignore so we put it out.” Released in August 1988, it went on to earn Donovan a gold disc. “We were never sure whether Jason ever knew that Rick had rejected the song,” said Harding2. Regardless, this initial one-off experiment had been a success, and work began on a full-length album. The approach taken was formulaic, adopting a tried-and-tested PWL method used with numerous artists: the material was largely written by Stock Aitken Waterman, but with one cover version of a classic hit of yesteryear thrown in that would usually be issued a single. For Donovan, this would be the previously mentioned Sealed With A Kiss; for Minogue, this had been The Loco-motion from her first album and Tears On My Pillow for her second. (Other examples of this SAW formula were Big Fun’s album, which included Hey There Lonely Girl, and the debut albums of both Brilliant and Sonia, where both acts attempted versions of The End Of The World. Astley’s first two albums also followed this brief, his debut including a cover of When I Fall In Love and its follow-up featuring his version of Ain’t Too Proud To Beg, although his albums were not exclusively written/produced by SAW; the same was true of Samantha Fox’s third album which included a SAW-produced cover of I Only Wanna Be With You together with original songs written by them, as well as tracks by other production teams.)
Despite this being enormously successful for him, at the time Donovan wasn’t entirely content. “Jason also seemed to find it hard to deal with the public persona that had grown up around him… he’d made a very successful career for himself and sold millions of records but apparently it wasn’t enough,” said Waterman1. For one thing, both personally and professionally he was being eclipsed by Minogue, who was proving to be the bigger star after all. His outselling her in 1989 was probably due only to timing: his Ten Good Reasons album was issued in May and her album that year Enjoy Yourself appeared in Ocotober; in just three months she’d sold over 1.2m copies while he’d taken more than twice as long to sell 1.5m. In addition he had released four singles to her three, so he had had more product to market. Minogue also ended their relationship that year and began a new one with INXS’s Michael Hutchence. Not only did Donovan’s ego have to cope with being dumped unexpectedly by his first real love, he was losing her to a man considered by many to be one of the sexiest in the world, and one who he later admitted he wanted to emulate. “God, I was a big Michael Hutchence fan at the time,” he said earlier this year3. “He was the epitome of the Australian rock god and uber cool. It made me look at myself, thinking, ‘What am I?’”
Waterman remembers how Donovan’s crisis of confidence manifested itself back at PWL a year or so later. “I’d received a phone call from his manager in Australia … who told me that Jason wouldn’t be coming back to England for a few weeks because he (Jason) felt that he was ‘overexposed’. Sure enough, he stayed away for a few weeks, then turned up at the office with a beard and long hair, announcing that he was really into Happy Mondays. He said that he’d got a group together and they were going on a world tour, because there were just too many pictures of him everywhere…[He] insisted that he had to drop out of the limelight for a bit or at least make some records that sounded like Happy Mondays. It was too bizarre to even contemplate.” His time at The Hit Factory (and as a pop star) was coming to an end. “I was like the little boy lost,” said Donovan. “But I was scoring massive hits all around the world. Funny old time that.”3
1 Waterman, Pete. I Wish I Was Me The Autobiography, Virgin Publishing Ltd, 5 October 2000.
2 Harding, Phil. PWL From The Factory Floor, Cherry Red Books, expanded edition 22 November 2010.
3 Stadlen, Matthew. “Neighbours was never my intention, it just happened”, The Telegraph, 9 February 2015.
NEW SINGLES on sale from Aug. 29
SPLODGENESSABOUNDS Two Little Boys (Deram ROLF1)
DEAD OR ALIVE (Pete Burns) Baby Don’t Say Goodbye (Epic BURNS6)
DEPECHE MODE Personal Jesus (Mute BONG17)
Jason DONOVAN Every Day (I Love You More) (PWL PWL43)
NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK Hangin’ Tough (CBS BLOCK1)
TIN MACHINE (David Bowie) Tin Machine (EMI USA MT73)